Enduring Your Heartbreak Hill

There is a half mile section near the end of the Boston Marathon called “Heartbreak Hill” and it is everything the name promises. Situated at mile 20 of 26, it is the last of a series of notorious hills near the end of the race. It is not the length of the hill that makes it a grind – in fact, it is quite short at only 91 feet, but it is one of the steepest inclines among North Americas most famous races. Boston is a marathon that is on many runner’s bucket lists, and they do not register without having prepared for the whole course, including the hills. We are all going to face our own kind of heartbreak hills in our lifetimes, but with a few pointers from those who have gone before us you can endure and overcome every obstacle you will face in life.  

Maybe you are facing a thousand tiny heartbreaks, or maybe you have been given a big diagnosis or have had a major loss. 

In these moments, the hill is looming and like a runner even small steps can mean a monumental effort. Runners train for a long time before entering a race like the Boston Marathon, in fact the top runners arrive in Boston before the race to run drills on Heartbreak Hill – they know what to expect, the have thought about what to wear, they have a slogan or mantra in mind for motivation, they visualize what it’s going to be like to conquer those hills. They have invested time and money and miles because they want to finish that race. They know what it takes to endure.   

In our reading from Pilgrims Progress we’ve seen Christian face his own hill this week – The Hill of Difficulty. This hill comes at such a pivotal moment in the story, his burden has just fallen off at the sight of the cross! This is his salvation moment: he’s been forgiven, received new clothes and the mark on his forehead along with a sealed scroll. These things are the assurances of his salvation and preparation for the journey ahead. He’s encouraged to run, to take the scroll and deliver it to the gate of the Celestial City. He is motivated and filled with joy – and the scroll is a comfort to him as he sticks to the narrow path. It is not long before he arrives at the bottom of a formidable hill.  

Often challenges come not long after a breakthrough. There is a rhythm to life that way, which is such a blessing at the start of a challenge. Like Christian we often come into a challenge with expectation and energy. We take off running, and it’s not long before we’re walking and finally clawing and crawling our way through the struggle. As difficulty in life wears on we need a place of refreshment. In the story Christian finds that God has provided just such a place in the middle of the hill. He stops for a breather, then sits and eventually falls asleep and drops his precious scroll.  

DON’T STOP where you are meant to rest.  

We can know that God will provide will be a place of refreshment in the face of our biggest challenges in life. Maybe a worship song will come to you, or a friend will send you a Bible verse. Refreshment often comes in times of fellowship at church or when your Life Group prays for you – but these places are not parking lots. Can you imagine a runner sitting down and taking a nap at a water station? They keep running! There is a goal ahead and they don’t lose sight of that in the middle of a hill. Christian drops something precious and rare as he sleeps and he finds that he needs it when he finally jolts awake and climbs to the crest of the hill.  

GUARD YOUR HEART from loss of trust and lack of confidence.  

At the top of the hill, we meet a couple more of the cast of characters Christian meets on his journey: Mistrust and Timorous. They are running away, shouting a warning of lions ahead. We understand mistrust, it’s easy when you’re in the middle of a challenge – trust only yourself, don’t be too vulnerable or confident. To be timorous means to be afraid and lack confidence. Difficulties in life certainly sap our courage and confidence as they wear on and it’s easy to listen to those voices around us, the fears and self-doubts. Christian stays in character here, as we’ve heard him express many times in the book: “where else would I flee for safety? If I go back to my home in the City of Destruction, it is destined for judgment and awaiting fire and brimstone. I would certainly perish there. (pg. 48)” He’s walking in a fabulous promise from the Bible that we can put our trust and confidence in to guard our hearts in difficulties… 

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7 NIV 

At this point Mistrust and Timorous have run away and Christian goes to touch the scroll in his chest pocket for comfort and that is when he realizes that he’s lost it! He rushes back down the hill to find it back at the place he slept and must climb back up a second time. As he crests the hill, he sees the palace Beautiful at the top of the hill, and sure enough: the lions he heard about.  

KEEP YOUR EYES on the prize.  

Just as he is considering turning back, he hears a voice coming from the door of the house telling him that the lions are chained, and he will be unharmed if he stays to the middle of the path. He has almost passed this first test of faith: and he endures to arrive at the palace Beautiful. During your heartbreak hill you might be tempted to keep your eyes down and focus on the next step – but let us say “with my eyes fixed on the goal I push on to secure the prize of God’s heavenward call in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14  

There is a call in your heartbreak hill, you will not have to endure it forever and when you endure, you’ll have a testimony to share!  

That’s the truly beautiful thing about the palace Beautiful – in that place Christian gets a chance to share about his journey thus far. He finds this opportunity because he has endured, and it gives him courage and motivation for what will come next. There is purpose in pain and a call to share what you’ve been through to help others on the path. Don’t give up! Take heart and keep your eyes on the goal.